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Wil Wheaton thinks streaming will be the big bang for a new era of TV

Wil Wheaton Interview
Gage Skidmore/Wikimedia

Wil Wheaton has been part of pop culture phenomena since he was a child actor starring in the big screen adaptation of Stephen King’s Stand By Me in 1986.

But even stepping into Gene Roddenberry’s Star Trek universe playing Wesley Crusher in Star Trek: The Next Generation from 1987-1994 didn’t prepare him for the global reach of The Big Bang Theory, the No. 1 sitcom in the world today.

Having provided voice acting for animated comic book television shows such as Teen Titans, Legion of Super Heroes, and Batman: The Brave and the Bold over the years, Wheaton stars in Season 2 of Sony Pictures Television’s PlayStation Network exclusive series Powers.  The actor told Digital Trends about his own love of comic books and the opportunities of emerging digital distribution platforms in this exclusive interview.

Digital Trends: What comic books did you read growing up?

Wil Wheaton: When I was a kid I got my comic books at the local drug store where they had them on one of those four-sided spinning racks. I was drawn to those early ‘70s Marvel and DC horror and sci-fi anthology books like House of Mystery and House of Secrets. Then in the ‘80s I got into super heroes. I was really into Justice League and X-Men, and then in the late ‘80s I discovered Sandman and that put me on to this track of only reading stuff that was dark and gritty. This was before Vertigo was Vertigo. I think they called it the prestige format or the new format.

That dark interest fits in perfectly with stepping into this world of Powers.

Yes, absolutely.

What do you feel separates Powers from all of the other comic book properties out there?

Every comic book is unique in its own way. What I really like about Powers when I first read it -and what I like about the series — is we get to see what happens in this world where we all take super-powered beatings for granted. Here is what happens in that world when they’re not necessarily altruistic, and they’re also not ridiculous mustache-twirling villains. We get to really see from the ground level what it is like for Walker, who was one of the greatest heroes of all time, to have to go and break up the parties he wants to be invited to. What really sets it apart is we see it from Walker’s perspective. And everyone in Powers is damaged in some way. We don’t necessarily have to see people being heroic all the time. Even if they’re generally good, everybody has a moment where they slip up; right?

That is really appropriately in Marvel’s family tree. (Comic book writer) Matt Fraction has a fantastic saying that in the old days the difference between Marvel and DC was that Marvel was stories about street level people who are flawed and complicated, and DC is a more looking down from the tops of the buildings where everybody is in a shiny suit.

Can you talk a little bit about the character that you bring to life in the second season of Powers?

I can’t tell you a lot about him specifically because it’s extremely important to the plot, and it unfolds over the episodes that he is in. But I will tell you that he is an adult who never really grew up. He loves his toys. He loves making toys. He loves sharing the joy of play with everyone that he can, but he’s also a little bit of a ruthless businessman. So while he loves to do all these things with wonderful toys and things like that, he also is really committed to being successful and making as much money as he can. And those two things really power exactly who he is and motivate all of his decisions.

Outside of Powers, if you could have any super power in real life what would it be and why?

I like what the Flash can do. I like the idea of super speed because the idea of being able to vibrate the individual atoms in my body to a point where they can actually pass straight through the earth, that’s just cool and weird.

Everyone in Powers is damaged in some way.

I find the idea of flight really interesting and really cool, but then there are these other things I don’t think we think about. Flight is cool, but you can only go to a particular altitude because it’s cold, or you’re going to be flying through the rain, or you’re flying so fast that the friction of the air is going to be a problem for you. And being invisible sounds cool, but that means that you have to be out in the elements without any clothing on — otherwise you’re just clothing with no body in it. I’m breaking the question because I think about it from too much a realistic perspective, which is why I then keep coming back to the Flash. The idea of being someone like the Flash and being able to play against myself in competitive Ping Pong is extremely attractive.

What are your thoughts on PlayStation Network as a new entertainment platform?

It is fantastic that Powers, which is by every metric a big budget network show with a lot of studio resources behind it and a first class cast and crew and creative team — is on the Playstation Network. It’s really exciting to me that it is challenging the notion of how we get our entertainment. The world is changing so much because of high speed internet and multimedia consoles that live in our house that can do so many different things. This gives creative people an opportunity to produce things that really wouldn’t necessarily get made if they were going to be produced if we only had cable networks to pitch to. It’s really awesome that Sony and Marvel have gotten behind this particular experiment to test these waters and show that we can do stuff and distribute it in this way and reach people who maybe don’t want to have a cable/satellite subscription.

I feel like I’m really lucky, since for the last almost 20 years I’ve been able to be part of things that are real close to the tip of the spear in emerging technologies and things like that. It’s really exciting to be part of this because right now it’s really unique and a little weird that Powers is exclusively on Playstation. In five years, that’s just going to be totally normal.

How have you seen playing Wil Wheaton on The Big Bang Theory impact your fan base out there beyond Geek & Sundry and Powers?

Working on The Big Bang Theory has actually brought me to an entirely different audience then all of my other work. The Big Bang Theory is the most popular sitcom in the English-speaking world and it’s airing in some format 24 hours a day around the world. Last night my wife and I went out to dinner and the couple at the table next to us; the woman leaned over and said, “I don’t want to bother you, but I love you on The Big Bang Theory. You’re very funny and I love the relationship between you and Sheldon.” And her husband doesn’t watch the show, but then she said he’s Wil Wheaton from Stand By Me. And then her husband looked at me for a second and I could see him doing that like age progression on my face, and he was like, “Oh, I loved you in that movie.” They both like my work but for completely different reasons, which is really awesome to be part of something that I’m really proud of that’s really fun to work on, but brings me to a very different audience than the work I do with Geek & Sundry or the work that I did on Powers.

I’m very lucky that I get to have this moment in my career where my work is landing on lots of different parts of an audience because hopefully over the next maybe 10 or 15 years that makes me marketable — as far as studios are concerned — because a lot of different people from a lot of different demographics would maybe be willing to come check out what sort of things I’m doing because they’re all aware of me for different reasons.

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